Wether you are a new photographer or a hobbyist who wants to take the next step up, it's hard not to look at other photographers work. We all want to see what others are doing, where they are going and how they are processing their images. Social media is saturated with images from all walks of life. From the mom or dad who photographs their kids, the weekend warriors who have full time jobs and the influencers who live in their vans and travel full time, it's easy to get caught up in what others are doing. But should you compare your work to those of others? It's hard not to do this. We have all done this before. Comparing your work to others can come in various forms. If Betty posts on her instagram about a sale she made with an image that's similar to yours, or you and a friend are both shooting the same subject at the same time and you like their's better, both are a form of comparison.
When I first started taking photos in 6th grade and found that I really loved the idea of clicking a camera, taking the film in to be developed and seeing the results, I told myself, I am only going to take photos of things I like. Subjects I want to photograph and capture as my eye sees them. To this day I have stood by this and continue to only photograph things that interest me. Along the way I had to try a few things to know if I liked them or not. I shot weddings, portraits, sports and pets early on in my photographic journey. There is a good reason why I don't continue to shoot these things today.
I had been a film photographer for almost 20 years before getting a digital camera. I knew how to work a film camera and get the best possible exposure from most any scene I was shooting. I felt pretty good about photographic abilities. When I switched to digital, I had to buy a computer so I could look at the images. I found a few online forms where other photographers were posting their images. I'll admit, I was in shock (in a good way) with what I was seeing from people I had never heard of before. Some of the images were so amazing that I could hardly believe they were real. I began posting some of my work to these forms and started getting some honest, brutally honest feedback. My confidence level went from sky high to an all time low... I almost gave up on photography. Some of the comments were not only honest from their viewpoint but rude and uncalled for from my viewpoint. This was back in 2006 when most people were starting to make the transition from film to digital or just to start shooting images...
What I didn't realize at the time was that some of these photographers had been using a program called "Photoshop" for many years as graphic designers or as photographers who had made the early switch to digital photography. They were years ahead of me in the art of editing images. I was comparing myself, a film photographer, to what some would say, master digital photographers. Nonetheless, it was a blow to my self esteem at the time. Just like with anything, we have to learn new skills when we are starting out. When I found out these photographers were using Photoshop, I thought they were "cheating". I then realized they were doing on a computer what I had been doing in a darkroom and once I got over my mindset that Photoshop was cheating, things started to get a little easier for me.
This blog post isn't about Photoshop and if you know how to use it or not. Photoshop is just one tool in a photographers bag that can be used. Just like the type of camera and lens you use or the monitor on which you view your images, these are just tools. Lets fast forward to now, social media fills our everyday lives, we see pictures non stop and now we have "likes". In my opinion this has to be the most crazy thing that has happened over the years. "Likes" are one of the things that some people are using to validate themselves. Should we get upset if Joey's new image on IG gets 5,389 likes and a similar one of yours only gets 47? Absolutely not... Take the images you like to take, share them with your friends and followers. Did you know you can buy likes? Have you ever went through the follower list on other photographers pages to see how many bots they have following them? It's interesting to me that some of the more well known photographers don't keep the bots off their pages..
Why does this matter? To most it doesn't, but for the ones who are actively working to promote their work and make a business out of it, it does. Personally, I want to only engage with real people. I want to know that my time online is being spent with actual humans who engage back and follow my pages because they genuinely appreciate the content I am posting. Not faceless bots that just like posts as soon as it's posted. Social Media is called "social" for a reason..Interactions between real people sharing comments and opinions, not bots who don't care at all. So social media is a horrible way to compare yourself to others. My take on this is just post the images you like, the way you like them. Unfortunately, social media is the most "in our face" way of seeing pictures and learning. Not many of us are going to the library and checking out books about "the art of photography" or "how to take better photos". So how do we learn?
I consider myself a self taught photographer, meaning I had no formal training other than a year of photography classes high school. As I mentioned before, to find your style and what you love to shoot, you'll need to try many different subjects and see what fits with you on a personal level. I find that I am the happiest and get the best images when I really want to photograph what I am photographing. There are days i'll go out to shoot and when I get there my mind just isn't in it, the scene can be incredibly beautiful but I'm just not there on a personal level and generally don't come home with good images. Love what you're shooting, be present and experience the scene. A photograph can often times tell the viewer what the photographer was feeling at the time the image was being captured.
Look at other photographers work - don't compare - just look and see what they are doing. This is probably one of the most fantastic ways to learn about composition and lighting. If you see an image that draws you in, what was it about that image that did that? How can you incorporate that into your images? Was there something about the image you didn't like? Something that made you keep scrolling? Look at those images too because in all honesty knowing what doesn't work for you will help you more.... This will help you know what not to do when you're shooting or processing. Ask non photographer friends to give you some comments on your images. While this may not help you become a better photographer, if you're thinking about selling your work, it will give you a better idea of what the general public thinks. Truth be told, most photographers are not buying other photographers work.
Because all the algorithms are different for everyone, our fan bases are different and there is no such thing as a level playing field, we really can't and shouldn't compare ourselves to others. No matter how hard that is, don't do it. It's the fastest way to sabotage yourself into a downward spiral. Enjoy the process of making an image. Enjoy the experience of being out shooting in whatever conditions that may be. Simply enjoy your time with your camera photographing the subjects you love.
You've accepted the fact that you're not going to actively compare yourself to others but you still want to see where you stand in the game of photography. I have a few suggestions that may work. Join your local photography club. These are often nothing more than a group of likeminded people who share the same interest as you and enjoy sharing their work. If you live in an area where there may not be a local photo club, you can always find one online. Most of the photo clubs I know of are now offering their meetings both in person and via zoom. This makes it nice for those who can't attend in person. I joined my local club, The Lone Tree Photography Club, 10 years ago when I moved to Colorado and I've made some wonderful friends through the club. When I have questions about my work, I can always ask them for honest feedback. I am more receptive to feedback from friends who also share my love for photography than someone online who I don't know giving me a comment or critique. Consider joining PPA (Professional Photographers of America) You don't have to be a professional to join and they have a lot of resources you can learn from. I know a lot of people who have went through PPA and now have a Master certification in photography. It's a great resource for all skill levels. For some, joining Viewbug may be helpful. It's a bunch of online competitions and photo challenges that help to get you out there shooting and sharing your work with others. Last but not least, simply submit your images to various places. Be sure to read all the fine details where you're submitting to make sure you get to keep all rights to your images. Places like National Geographic (Your Shot) or Outdoor Photographer, both photo contests or assignments can be fun. They also have a great list of contributing photogs and writers to help you gain knowledge.
The sky is the limit... Take your photography as high and far as you want. By keeping your focus on you and your work you'll be less inclined to be affected by others. If you love what you're shooting, learning each day and accepting constructive feedback from those you respect then you'll be just fine... Don't let the numbers game get you down. My last little bit of advice that I have found works well, as a photographer and person, engage with others. Show your fans/followers that you are a real person too, that's what social media is about. Never be afraid to ask questions. Maybe the best way is to send a direct message so that the peanut gallery doesn't get involved. Most photographers I know are more than willing to share when they are asked a specific question. I wish you all the best in your photography!
If you have any questions about photography, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'm always happy to help.
Thank you for your time.